Living in Cabramatta, noodlies gets spoilt by the range and quality of Vietnamese food.  I go into automatic mode and take things for granted.  The past couple of weeks I’ve been eating Vietnamese food outside the ‘ghetto’ including Red Lantern on Riley and today, Bay Tinh Vietnamese restaurant in Crows Nest.

As well as the authenticity, of course, I also spot the compromises made for Vietnamese food to be more accessible to the rest of Sydney.  But outside the comfort zone, in the midst of the compromises, I see and appreciate Vietnamese food in a different light.

Owner, Harry Hoang explains that Vietnamese food is fresh, but it’s “not raw like Japanese, not oily as Chinese, not too hot or spicy as Thai”.  He says Vietnamese food doesn’t rely on heavy or overly spicy sauces, so if the food isn’t tasty or the freshest ingredients haven’t been used, it’s immediately obvious to diners.  There’s no room to hide.

Hearing it from Hoang in Crows Nest rams it home and I experience that ‘light bulb’ moment.  See the full noodlies interview with Harry at the end of this post.

banh khot bay tinh

Banh khot is an example, in Crows Nest I appreciate their uniqueness, these rice cakes aren’t available at many Vietnamese restaurants in Cabramatta, let alone the rest of Sydney.  They’re lightly spiced from spring onions, a little crunchy outside but soft and melty inside.  Dip them in the amber fish sauce and it really does feel like Vietnam.

banh xeo vietnamese pancake bay tinh

Watch the noodlies featured video above to see this banh xeo before noodlies got stuck into them.  When the pancake lands at the table, it’s crescent shaped, golden, gleaming and crispy outside. Inside it’s filled with bean sprouts, soya beans, pork and prawns.  At home we’ll rip it into bite size pieces, wrap in lettuce, pickles and a variety of mints before dipping them into fish sauce.  Vietnamese food is incredibly interactive. Here, you’ll cut the banh xeo into pie size pieces and dip them into fish sauce, the few lettuce and mint are merely garnish.  It’s not the whole hog, but it’s still a pretty delicious experience and the north shore customers seem delighted.

duck in cumquat sauce bay tinh

Duck in cumquat sauce is something I’m not familiar with.  The roast duck is still a little pink inside giving the meat an extra gamey taste and stronger texture.  The edginess is subdued a little with the sweet and sour cumquat pieces and sauce.  Complex and intriguing.

spatchcock and chips bay tinh

Vietnamese love their birds, chicken, quail, pigeon – today we’re having spatchcock.  The grilled bird yields so much taste with the tight flesh particularly rewarding.  The chips aren’t what you expect.  If it’s not floury it’s because they’re not made from potatoes.  While they look eerily like potato chips, these golden delights are made from stick rice so it’s a sweeter taste and gluggier consistency. It plays with your head a little until you get it, then you’ll end up loving it.

bonfire beef bay tinh

Bonfire beef is easily the most spectacular dish of the night.  The meat arrives at the table in a covered clay pot, then it’s literally lit up with alcohol and a match to complete the cooking process.  The meat is rolled in rice paper, lettuce, mints and pickles, and dipped in a mildly pungent purple sauce made from fermented fish.  There’s so many fresh, delicious flavours, it’s impossible not to like this dish.  Watch the video below to see how it’s made.  This dish invites you to literally get amongst it all and get dirty.

Notice in the video Bay Tinh has gone to the trouble of separating and wetting each sheet of rice paper to make it easier for diners to roll their bonfire beef.

mushroom prawn bay tinh

The steamed shiitake mushrooms stuffed with prawn meat has a distinctive Cantonese feel.  While the flavours are delicate, they are also full-on, close your eyes and you’ll be overwhelmed by that smoky mushroom taste as well as the prawn flavours.

creme caramel bay tinh

My mouth immediately watered upon the sight of this glistening dessert.  The creme caramel is sweet but not over the top, but it’s the silky, sexy consistency that gets me each time.  The ice cream is an extra indulgence. This dessert looks and tastes spectacular.

Bay Tinh has been a Marrickville institution for over 20 years.  The Crows Nest branch is just over 6 months old and service, especially on weekdays can be a little hit and miss while they’re finding their feet.  It was packed on the cold Wednesday night we visited, it must have been a surprise because they were under-staffed and service was a little slow.

Tonight it didn’t bother me. After four hours of feasting and good conversation, noodlies Sydney food blog really did come to an epiphany about Vietnamese food.

I remember why it’s different from other cuisines; it’s the fresh, clean taste that Sydney loves so much.  To really enjoy Vietnamese food, you have to use your hands, whether it’s ripping banh xeo, wrapping bonfire beef, or gnawing on spatchcock.  And it’s a shared experience.  It’s a sexy, intimate, tactile leisurely experience to be enjoyed between friends, whether it’s in Cabramatta or Crows Nest.

Bay Tinh Vietnamese Restaurant
16 Falcon Street , Crows Nest
Phone:  9438 5118

Noodlies, Sydney food blog and friend were guests of Bay Tinh, Crows Nest.